Michelin Details Future of Tire Innovation for Electric Cars

At a press conference during the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) today, Michelin detailed its view of the future of automotive transportation and the role that tires will play in meeting the unique demands of more environmentally positive vehicles featuring advanced technology.

The lesson learned from the past decade and more critically the last 15 months is that together, we as an industry must commit to a new, more sustainable road mobility focused on three realities:

First, increasing fuel efficiency and thereby reducing CO2 emissions: Despite any binding agreement and beyond all rhetoric, Copenhagen has shown a widespread conviction to take clear action to reduce CO2 emissions. The transportation industry is no exception and will not escape this necessity.

Second, we must integrate the new reality that growth markets will be in highly urbanized areas of emerging countries; and, that their needs are different than what most of the industry today produces. Totally new products and new business models must emerge.

Third, we must improve road safety. This past November, the United Nations hosted the first global ministerial conference on road safety in Moscow. Michel Rollier, the CEO of the Michelin Group, was the only tire executive to participate. Michelin fully supports the roadmap that resulted from this global conference, which aims to curb the number of road fatalities (1.3 million today) and serious injuries (50 million today) by 2020. We know the crucial role that tires play in this fight, particularly in reducing stopping distances and improving vehicle handling.

At its core, transportation is freedom and development. To fan the flames of freedom and development, we must offer mobility that is affordable, safe, reliable and sustainable.

The choices of yesterday are not the good choices of tomorrow. For countries with developing transportation systems, this means using diversified energy sources, more efficient power trains, and lighter, more compact vehicles. For countries with mature transportation systems it means… the same.

It is in this arena that Michelin is actively working.

Today, about 45 percent of the oil extracted worldwide is used for road transport. Of the fuel used by passenger cars, up to 20 percent is directly related to tire rolling resistance, 30 percent or more for trucks. That equates to about 9 percent of global oil consumption that is directly related to tire use. It is on this 9 percent that Michelin is focused; 8 million barrels of oil a day! Through our technology and innovation, we know that we can make a meaningful difference for the environment and in the overall cost of transportation… at a very minimal investment!

No doubt you have heard about Michelin’s green energy-saving tires that lower rolling resistance and therefore improve vehicle fuel economy. But improving fuel economy isn’t enough. If tires improve fuel economy but only last half as long or double the braking distance – don’t buy them! They wouldn’t save the environment or your wallet anything.

Michelin is currently working on our fifth generation of green tires and we have proved an improvement of at least 2 percent in improved fuel economy and reduced CO2 emissions with each successive generation. More than 10 percent total! This has been, in our own way a silent revolution, reducing global fuel consumption by more than 3 billion gallons and avoiding 30 million metric tons in CO2 emissions since 1992.

Michelin has committed to improving fuel economy while maintaining very long wear life, excellent wet braking, comfort and low noise. We know that the quality of the tire is at the core of its value – the balance of performances must be maintained. In fact, Green X tires such as the Michelin HydroEdge come with a 90 thousand mile warranty and stop up to 14 feet shorter in wet conditions than our top "green tire" competitor. While we have been developing the broadest offering of green energy-saving tires of any tire maker in the world, we have also continued to dominate the J.D. Power and Associates Awards for Customer Satisfaction – receiving more than four times the number of awards of all other tire makers combined. Clearly, Michelin is raising the bar on tire performance.

Another key factor in sustainable mobility progress is environmental regulation that helps consumers make smarter mobility choices. Michelin has been leading the effort in three global capitals -Brussels, Washington and Tokyo – to require meaningful tire labeling for fuel economy at the point of purchase.

The European Commission has fully approved and is in the process of implementing the new regulations establishing minimum performance thresholds and consumer information labeling for tire performance across Europe. Similarly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working to finalize a new regulation for the United States that will establish consumer information and labeling requirements for tire performance. The final rule from NHTSA is expected early this year.

While the expected U.S. regulation does not currently include the specification of minimum tire performance standards (unlike the EU legislation), Michelin strongly supports the establishment of such standards to assure the removal from the U.S. market of tires that are the worst performers in fuel efficiency. Michelin is working with other progressive stakeholders to request that Congress and NHTSA establish a low rolling resistance standard and has offered our full assistance and cooperation to advance this fuel saving and emission reducing standard.

Beyond tire innovations for current vehicles, Michelin is also making advances in equipping new technology vehicles. Just behind me, you will see a Michelin tire concept designed specifically for electric vehicles.

At Michelin, we believe that electric power trains will develop. Whether they are plug-in hybrids, hybrids or pure EVs – it’s clear that electric drive vehicles will come in many forms and for multiple markets.

All electric vehicles place unique demands on tire performance. Michelin designers must account for more torque on the low end and apply our Green X technology to maximize vehicle range. We must employ new materials to reduce tire mass in order to help offset battery weight. Unmasked by engine noise, tires for electric vehicles have to be quiet and require increased uniformity to maintain vehicle comfort. Aerodynamics also plays a key role in extending the range of an electric vehicle without compromising handling or safety. Those aerodynamic demands extend to the tire-wheel assembly, with rim size, tire width and overall shape playing pivotal roles.

And because we are convinced that the battle to reduce mass and the introduction of electric power trains will be two major disruptions of the next two decades, Michelin is moving beyond just the tire and is imagining what the wheel itself can incorporate.

The Michelin Active Wheel, outfitted on the electric Venturi Volage concept vehicle just behind me integrates all essential components into the wheel itself, eliminating the motor from under the hood, traditional suspension, transmission components, etc…

This 4×4 Volage features an electric drive motor inside the wheel along with an in-wheel active suspension and disc brakes. This creates unrivaled road-handling and comfort, together with stunning acceleration.

For electric or hybrid applications that would not require an electric suspension system, Michelin has been working on Motorized Wheels. The electric drive BB1 concept unveiled by PSA in Frankfurt last fall, features two motorized wheels on the rear axle. Similarly, a hybrid concept in development by Renault, uses two motorized wheels as well. It is interesting to note that recently the Chief Technical Officer of Nissan stated that in-wheel motor technology is the condition required for EVs to really take-off. Michelin has developed the expertise and has active development programs globally with several vehicle manufacturers.

Accelerating progress is not new for Michelin. In a few months, we will host our tenth Michelin Challenge Bibendum – and for the first time in South America – as the largest environmental vehicle event in the world goes to Rio de Janeiro.

Since the first Challenge Bibendum in 1998, Michelin has been bringing together all the participants in road transportation – vehicle manufacturers, technology developers, legislators and regulators, NGOs and journalists. Over the years, we have seen the birth of hybrids; we’ve refueled hydrogen fuel cells in rallies on three continents and we’ve watched as electric vehicles went from entertaining experiments to realistic consumer choices. Along the way, Michelin has helped accelerate improvement in road safety, fuel efficiency and new technology development.

I extend a warm invitation to you to join us in Rio, under the patronage of Brazilian President Lula, to see first-hand not only how sugar ethanol is helping the largest economy in South America reduce its carbon footprint even as its vehicle population explodes, but also the complete cocktail of advanced technology solutions developed on various continents.

As I hope you can see, Michelin views itself as more than a tire maker. We instead see ourselves as a full partner in the challenge of sustainable mobility. We take this challenge quite seriously and we have committed the 120,000 Michelin employees worldwide to its cause. By producing the most technically advanced tires for today’s vehicles, partnering with vehicle manufacturers on motorized wheel systems for tomorrow’s vehicles, and encouraging legislative and technological progress toward a truly sustainable future, we are leading our industry as part of the solution for the future of road transportation.

Dedicated to the improvement of sustainable mobility, Michelin designs, manufactures and sells tires for every type of vehicle, including airplanes, automobiles, bicycles, earthmovers, farm equipment, heavy-duty trucks, motorcycles and the space shuttle. The company also publishes travel guides, hotel and restaurant guides, maps and road atlases. Headquartered in Greenville, S.C., Michelin North America employs 21,600 and operates 18 major manufacturing plants in 16 locations.